DES MOINES — Proposed rules that Secretary of State Matt Schultz says are necessary to maintain election integrity were roundly criticized during a two-hour public hearing Thursday.
More than three dozen people spoke in near-unanimous opposition to the rules, which they saw as a waste of money, an overreach by the Secretary of State’s Office and an attempt by Schultz, a Republican, to intimidate voters.
“The intent of this rule is to scare people to stay home,” said Joe Fagan, a Des Moines resident and a founding member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
“We’ve got our bones to pick with the Democrats as well, but this is a GOP scheme,” said Hugh Espey, also a member of CCI. “You should expand democracy, not restrict it.”
The group has joined with the Iowa Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, the National Association of Social Workers, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, American Friends Service Committee and the League of United Latin American Citizens in opposition to the rules before they go to an administrative rules committee for approval next week.
The rules concern Schultz’s efforts to access government immigration and transportation databases to compare information with voter rolls. In addition, Schultz has proposed changes to the procedure by which someone’s voter registration can be challenged.
The hearing was broadcast live through the state-run Iowa Communications Network. While the vast majority of the speakers were in Des Moines, a few offered their opinions from locations such as Iowa City, Bettendorf and Sioux City.
Maria Runquist, who spoke from the Sioux City ICN room, encouraged Schultz to “stop these nonsense proposals” and Arthur Heyderman, president of the ACLU of Iowa, chimed in from the ICN room in Bettendorf.
“I am very disturbed at what this is trying to do,” he said. “The government has instituted a process that disproportionally impacts minorities.”
Rita Bettis, an attorney for the ACLU, challenged the legality of Schultz’s rules, saying the General Assembly, not the secretary of state, has the authority to do what he wants to do.
“No amount of revising by the secretary will make promulgating this rule within his authority,” Bettis said.
Charlie Smithson, Schultz’s legal counsel who ran the hearing, later dismissed Bettis’s complaint, saying the Legislature gives Schultz wide authority of how he wants to carry out administrative duties of the office.
“We’re trying to balance the need of having accountability in elections versus protecting the rights of citizens,” Smithson said. “We’re trying to get that balance.”
If the rules are approved at next week’s committee meeting, Schultz could formally adopt the rules and they could go into effect as early as mid-March.